Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Statements by Senators
From my first day in this place, I have always come into this chamber with one thing in mind: how can I best advance the interests of the Northern Territory? That is one of my No.1 goals. Yesterday's federal budget was a big win for the Territory, a big win I have worked tirelessly to deliver with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. In fact, I was in both of their offices this morning humbugging about Territory issues. I thank them because, on what is one of the biggest days of the year for them, they took the time to listen to what is important for the Northern Territory. They know the contribution the Territory makes to our national economy. When the Territory is strong, so is our nation. They know the vital strategic role the NT plays in our nation's defence.
Last night's budget has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure to the NT. It has delivered continued support to maintain vital aviation networks, including within the NT and from Darwin to interstate. It has delivered more funding for the Building Better Regions Fund, with many areas in the NT set to benefit from this. There is $2 billion for water infrastructure, which I informed the Deputy Prime Minister last night that I intend to grab a slice of.
We can only achieve these outcomes when the Northern Territory has strong representation in the parliament. We can only achieve these outcomes by maintaining—and, in fact, growing—the Territory's voice in Canberra. As the Deputy Prime Minister wrote in an op-ed in the NT News in August, such a large area as the Northern Territory, with residents spread everywhere, needs and deserves more than one Reps MP to ensure democracy is well served, best served. I will continue to work constructively within the government to achieve that end, including through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I've already been working very closely with the joint standing committee chair, Senator James McGrath, to ensure the Northern Territory's voice is heard loud and clear.
I am not surprised, when reading through the submissions to the committee's inquiry, at the vocal opposition to the Australian Electoral Commission's recommendation to reduce the Territory' two lower house seats of Lingiari and Solomon to just one. Given the strong opposition from community groups, Indigenous land councils, political analysts such as Antony Green, various professors, the Territory government, the Territory opposition, federal members and senators in this place, I have to wonder why we would allow a blunt mathematical equation based on population to get it so wrong. The AEC's formula, I might add, doesn't include unenrolled voters. As at 31 March, the Northern Territory government believed there were 24,000 unenrolled voters in the Territory. Many of the Territory's unenrolled voters are Aboriginal. Having recently been through some of the gruelling remote area polling, I have seen firsthand how many people in remote communities are not enrolled.
If it were to lose one seat, the Territory would then become the largest seat in the country and would see an extra 30,000 people spread over an area more than 35,000 times larger than the electorate of Melbourne—35,000 times larger! On the other hand, we have Tasmania. I do love my Tasmanian colleagues, but Tasmania is guaranteed five seats regardless of its population—a population of about 535,000—five members in the House of Representatives and 12 senators. So, with Tasmania being approximately double the Northern Territory's population, it has over four times our representation. If we were to lose one, Tassie would have over five times the Territory's representation. That doesn't sound very fair, and it's not. Territorians are seeking assurance that they will retain a minimum of two seats for the Northern Territory in the lower house. Let's not forget that we only have, as a territory, two senators. That's four federal representatives in total. And that's all we're seeking: to maintain what we have currently.
The Country Liberal Party and the Nationals have been pursuing this matter since the AEC's recommendations became known. We have provided a submission to the process. While others come into this place and talk about their intentions, we have been working on this behind the scenes to ensure delivery. This is what the CLP and the Nationals in government achieve. I would like to thank my opposite number, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, for her strong advocacy on behalf of all Territorians for the retention of two seats. However, we must also remember that if the Top End weren't so badly mismanaged for so long by Territory Labor we wouldn't even be in this position. The best way to keep two seats is to increase population growth, providing the economic growth the NT needs so that the numbers stack up on their own and we keep those seats. But, due to Labor's ineptitude, we now find ourselves in this position of having to legislate to maintain our representation.
I will keep working as part of the Morrison-McCormack government to deliver the services and infrastructure Territorians want, need and, most importantly, deserve. And I will hold this government to account, to act on the joint standing committee's report and to ensure that the Territory retains a minimum of two lower house seats.